ScrantonShakes to present premiere Panto production

By Maureen Hart

The Scranton Shakespeare Festival will be introducing a new kind of entertainment this holiday season with its Pantomime production of Snow White and the Seven Scrantonians at the Marketplace at Steamtown from Dec. 15-18 written and directed by Billie Aken-Tyers, an SSF alumna.

In addition to providing a jolly good time to audiences young and old, the show will raise funds to renovate the festival’s new space at the marketplace for more flexible programming.

Ticket buyers will literally be helping with both renovating the space and helping to fund the free professional summer season of musical and plays by Shakespeare.

Because Panto, a British tradition, is new to Scranton, we have conducted a Q&A with the playwright, and with Jonathan Stephens, SSF managing director, both of whom hail from the UK.

Help us out. What exactly is panto?

JONATHAN: Pantomimes pop up around the holidays and retell classic fairy tales through farce, song, dance, and slapstick fun! It’s a classic tradition that originated in the United Kingdom using a stylized theatrical performance rooted in the method of commedia dell’arte. Using comedy along with plenty of glitz and audience participation, pantos welcome all ages for an incredibly accessible evening of encapsulating storytelling.

Do you remember seeing your first panto in the UK?

BILLIE: Every Christmas Our school would take us to see the big pantomime at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle. It was a big deal, very expensive and flashy, and always so much fun. The kids would get very excited, and so would the adults. As I got older and started to realise how tongue-in-cheek panto was, I started to appreciate the humor more than anything else. 

JONATHAN:

Panto has always been a part of my life since I can remember – the tradition is so embedded that I can’t even recall my first one.It’s symbolistic to me of a perfect family night out; there’s truly something for everyone. Dazzling colours, hilariously over-the-top characters, sing along songs – a whirlwind of memories to be made!  

Playwright Billie Aken-Tyers is shown in a panto style production.

Billie, tell us about the original panto script you are writing and directing for ScrantonShakesl

BILLIE: The key to a good panto is that it feels like it is a part of the community. So, there will be plenty of NEPA specific humor happening. Pantos typically follow a basic fairytale plotline, with catchy pop songs thrown in, and the occasional vaudeville sketch. Lots of color, dancing, singing and silliness abounds. With the occasional tongue in cheek joke for the adults!

Why did ScrantonShakes decide to introduce this uniquely British theater experience to Scranton?

JONATHAN: We’re passionate about accessible storytelling at Scranton Shakes, and always love introducing fun new experiences to NEPA audiences that the whole family can enjoy. Panto provides all of those things! Given the amount of British collaborators (including myself) we’ve worked with during the life of Scranton Shakes, it was a perfect match for our mission and our know-how! We’ve wanted to bring a fun new tradition to Scranton and we think everyone is going to love experiencing Snow White and the Seven Scrantonians the Scranton Shakes way.

BILLIE: Clue us in. What kind of experience can the ScrantonShakes audiences expect?

Be prepared for lots of fun! Pantos are loud affairs, it’s interactive, and we want the audience to be involved. I almost can’t quantify what Panto is in a sentence because it’s so entrenched in British culture. But at its essence it’s about laughter, community and holiday cheer. Panto was and always has been theatre for the masses. Which feels very akin to what Scranton Shakes is doing in Lackawanna County!

Jonathan Stephens, managing director of Scranton Shakespeare, is shown playing Pinocchio.

How can people reserve tickets?

JONATHAN: Tickets are on sale now! The easiest way to get yours is via our website at Scrantonshakes.com. You can also give our box office a call at (570) 230-7277. We highly recommend booking tickets in advance to avoid disappointment.

Wbo we are:

 Billie’s work as an Actor, Director and Playwright has appeared on numerous stages internationally. Selected Credits:Fairycakes Off-Broadway(Greenwich House Theatre) Ragtag Theatre’s Cinderella (Soho Playhouse,Redhouse Arts, Barrington Stage Company),  Regional: Hood (Dallas Theater Center) The Revolutionists (Lake Dillon Theatre)  Mamma Mia! (Mill Mountain Theater) How to Succeed, Footloose, Much Ado, Pirates of Penzance (Scranton Shakes seven seasons). Directing: Your Alice(BAM, Edinburgh Fringe, Arcola Theatre, London) Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella (Shenandoah Music Theatre) Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat (SSF) and Lysistrata Jones (Nominated for Outstanding Production, NYIT Awards). Writing: Your Alice (BAM, EdFringe, Ophelia Theatre) Next Round, (Theatre Lab, Gala Theatre Online), We Carry On- A series of radio plays. Barrington Stage Playwright mentor. www.billieakentyers.com @billieakentyers

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 Jonathan has been with Scranton Shakes since its third season, in 2014. Initially seen “treading the boards” as Pinocchio inFairycakes and as a tap dancing police officer in Pirates of Penzance, he has since moved into arts administration and producing at SSF, Jonathan has also worked as management for Punchdrunk’s sell-out show SLEEP NO MORE in New York City, The National Theatre of Scotland’s The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart and on Broadway for New York City Center’s Encores! production of The Band Wagon. Jonathan also enjoys a taste of the TV and film industry, and is grateful to have worked with some of the greats, including Warner Brothers Studios and AppleTV+.

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Maureen, who is editor of The Dunmorean, is in her third term as board chairman of Scranton Shakespeare, and has been involved with the organization since its founding 11 years ago. 

Hart of the Issue: A penny for your thoughts

By John M. Hart III, Esq.

Picture yourself walking down an English street almost a century ago and you want to get in touch with a friend.  You wouldn’t reach into your pocket and pull out a phone, rather you’d walk to the nearest red telephone kiosk, topped with a dome made of segmented curves, a national icon that anyone can quickly identify with Great Britain.  

While the famous British Phone Booth we picture today isn’t the original design, it has been the main design, for the better part of its iterations, since the early 1920s, after Sir Giles Gilbert Scott submitted his winning design for an architecture competition. The phone booth remained in service for decades until the need for phone booths dwindled due to technological advancements. 

It’s clear that English phone booths were stylish, particularly compared to the ones I remember here in the States when I was growing up.  But they also served a bigger purpose besides the convenience of placing a call when you were nowhere near a “landline” in a building. They also provided privacy.  

The newest version of the Hart Free Library is in the offices of Hart Law, East Grove Street, Dunmore.

The telephone booth is a particularly interesting, yet overlooked, device in our society.  It even came up in a landmark case while I was studying in law school.  In Katz v. United States, 389 US 347 (1967), a gentleman was using a phone booth that federal agents had previously planted an eavesdropping device to the outside of… without a warrant. 

Based on his phone conversations, the agents charged him with several counts of illegal transmission of wagering to various cities across the country and he was found guilty based upon that evidence. He appealed the case all the way to the Supreme Court, arguing that he was entitled to Fourth Amendment protection and that the wiretap on the phone booth was an unreasonable search and seizure.  He won.

The need for a phone booth was even taken into consideration with the design of our footwear.  Did you ever wonder why they call them “penny loafers”?  I did, so I looked it up.  In the 1930s, a phone call at a phone booth cost two cents.  The penny loafer was designed specifically with just enough space to fit a penny in each shoe, so whenever you were out and about town, you could always place an emergency phone call.  (https://magazine.brooksbrothers.com/penny-thoughts/)

Speaking of the cost of a phone call, have you ever heard the phrase “drop a dime”? At some point in the phone booth’s history, a phone call cost 10 cents. And due to the anonymity of using a phone booth, if someone wanted to “snitch” or “rat” on someone, they’d drop a dime in the phone, and call in to the police to report a crime.  

But much like the passage of time, the intended use of the phone booth, and its interesting idioms that came with them, has come and gone. Yet while the intended uses are no more, those landmark monuments remain, particularly the British-styled booths, and we are left to repurpose them because we can’t get over their nostalgic charm.  And because of that iconic charm, we don’t just repurpose them, but even replicate them.  I know, because we did.  

For those that don’t know, Maureen Hart, (the editor/publisher of the Dunmorean), is an avid book reader.  And when she learned of an organization called littlefreelibrary.org, a nonprofit organization in St. Paul, Minnesota, whose vision is to have a little free library in every community and a book for every reader, she wanted in.  

So, she set to planning to build one in the Green Ridge neighborhood of Scranton.  The typical style of a library for this program is small–think breadbox on a mailbox post–and can hold maybe a dozen books at most.  The idea is that anyone can walk by, drop off a book, pick up a book, swap a book, whatever they want to do.  The goal is to just promote reading and make books accessible to all.  

John Hart Jr. poses with the Hart Free Library prior to the ribbon-cutting on Sept. 28, 2013.

But when Maureen discussed the plans with her husband, she didn’t get a bread box.  Her husband, the founder of the Dunmorean, and my father, John M. Hart, Jr., doesn’t do anything small. Everything he does requires a parade, a ribbon-cutting ceremony, or a speech.  

For this scheme, a ribbon-cutting ceremony, a few speeches, and a couple of past mayors were added for good measure.  Instead of a 12-book library, he envisioned a British-style phone booth.  At first, he wanted an official, decommissioned British phone booth, as discussed in detail above.  But the cost would have been astronomical to ship, let alone purchase.  So, he had a replica designed and built to house the new neighborhood book collection.  

When I learned of this endeavor, I was a skeptic.  I figured it would attract vandalism, among other things.  But it still stands to this day, albeit it’s seen better days. I was amazed to see the community’s reception.  People of all ages visit the library round the clock.  Children come with their parents to pick out a book, teens come to get books or even get their photos taken near it, or in it. Elderly come often and treasure the ease of access to books. And people periodically drop off books for a new owner to discover.  

Sure, some of those donors tend to treat it like a book dumpster, and leave cardboard boxes outside, (which we aren’t keen about) but for the most part, it’s a wonderful place and an incredible landmark in our neighborhood. 

The “little” free library is still in service today and can be seen and used at 1175 Morel Street, Scranton, PA 18509.  It’s located near Park Gardens, in Green Ridge, just a block away from Marywood University.  

As mentioned earlier, it’s getting a little worse for wear, but it is now a registered non-profit, and has a GoFundMe account. (Scan the QR Code to donate!)  If you get a chance to check it out, please do, and consider contributing.  

And if that location is a bit out of the way for you, we’d like to welcome you to stop by Hart Law, (134 E. Grove Street, Dunmore, PA 18510) where we started up our own Little Free Library.  It may not be as grandiose as our British Phone Booth location, but it’s convenient, and we welcome anyone to stop by for a visit and talk about their favorite book!

Cookie Sale Hosted by Tot Will Benefit Beads for Courage

Avery Shivock of Dunmore is shown with her Beads of Courage on the day of her last chemo. Her beads are almost seven feet long currently, and she is still earning more.

By Maureen Hart

Pre-pandemic, four-year-old Avery Shivock was selected as our Dunmorean of the Month, prompted by her volunteer work picking up cigarette butts at Sherwood Park. Her story highlighted the idea that nobody is too young to make a difference.

But, as her maternal grandmother Tina Lavelle remarks, “Things change quickly, and last January Avery had a cancerous Wilms tumor removed at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).”

It has been a very challenging year for the youngster. Her parents, Stephanie and Christopher Shivock, who also have a son, Mason, age 2, were setting up for Avery’s fourth birthday party when they had to take her to the pediatrician. The doctor urged them to take Avery to CHOP right away, where surgery was ordered immediately. It was three months before the little girl could finally celebrate her birthday.

She was only listed as clear last week, but the little lass has already started a brand new initiative.

At CHOP, which is a participant in the nationwide non-profit Beads for Courage program for children and teens with cancer, Avery received storytelling beads marking each milestone in her journey.

“Avery’s beautiful beads, which come from around the world, were free because of her hospital’s participation,” explains her mother. “But not everyone is as fortunate, so individuals have to step up to sponsor pediatric patients at non-participating facilities.” 

That has become Avery’s latest goal. She wants to be a WINGMAN, the term for a personal sponsor who pays for a patient’s beads. A WINGMAN represents someone who flies beside you and protects you or who watches your back when you think you are flying solo.

Kids coping with serious illness need a WINGMAN to help them get their Beads of Courage. This includes over 400 children on the waiting list to get Beads in the Mail – some waiting several months or more.

To earn the money to sponsor another child for a year, Avery is hosting a Cookies for Courage sale scheduled for August 21 beginning at 10 a.m. in front of her home at the corner of Jessup and Prospect Streets in Dunmore.

This cookie sale poster was hand-colored by four-year-old Avery Shivock.

“There will be a big tent set up for the sale, and many local places are donating cookies. One hundred percent of the proceeds will go toward the Wingman program,” her mother says. 

The initial goal was to sponsor one child for a year, but only one day after the project was announced on Facebook, the original goal was surpassed.

“We have great friends and family who are eager to help with this project,” says Stephanie. “So the cookie sale should enable us to sponsor more children.”

Stephanie, explains that she sees two purposes in the Beads of Courage program. “The beads show children what they have conquered. They serve as a visual representation, which also allows the patient to tell their whole story.”

For instance, Avery particularly has struggled with Covid tests, of which she has endured five. So certain colored beads represent that particular struggle and remind her that she conquered that fear. Other colors represent ER visits, pokes with needles, chemo,  and other procedures. 

To find out more about the national Beads of Courage program, go to: https://beadsofcourage.org/ or https://www.facebook.com/BeadsOfCourage.

For the Wingman program, click here.